Tanya Hanson: Rockin’ Round the Tetons


Two weeks ago I and my hubby T.L., brother-in-law Timmy and sis Roberta (l-r in the pic above) had the experience of a lifetime, taking a wagon train around the Tetons with an amazing group, Teton Wagon Train and Horse Adventures headed by wagonmaster Jeff Warburton out of Jackson, Wyoming. He’s a true cowboy and a gentleman and will be a guest here in Wildflower Junction in the near future.


We’re still in 7th Heaven about our adventure. To celebrate, I’ll send a pdf. copy of my fictional wagon train adventure Hearts Crossing Ranch to one commenter today after a name-draw. So come on down, ya hear?


Yep. We spent four days circling the Tetons through the Caribou-Targhee National Forest bordering Yellowstone bear country. We didn’t see any bear despite everybody’s secret longing.   Likely the thundering horses and our noisy group skeered ’em away.


 We got our start in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with a bus-load full of cityslickers from Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida, Illinois, us Californians..as well as Bermuda, Japan, and Brighton, England!  There were about forty of us ranging in age from five to—eighty one! 

First stop on the bus taking us to the wagons were photo-ops of the Grand lady herself..followed by her neighbor Mount Moran reflected perfectly in a oxbow lake.


These scenes were practically perfection in itself..but all breath stopped when we reached The Wagons.

 After a delicious lunch—there’s nothing quite like chuck wagon cooking in the open mountain air—Jeff called, “let the wagons roll” and we were off to our camp for the night.


Pulling them were magnificent draft horses, Percherons and Belgians. They are named in teams, such as Lady and Tramp, Gun and Smoke, Sandy and Sage, Jack and Jill. The first name is always the horse on the left. These glorious beasts are capable of pulling up to 4,000 pounds as a team, and they love to work. In winter, they lead sleighs to the elk refuge outside Jackson.                                                              

While the wagons do have rubber tires and padded benches, the gravel roads are nothing like a modern freeway. As driver  Marisa told us the first day, I get paid extra to hit as many rocks and potholes as I can. Most times our route was called the “cowboy rollercoaster.” 


I’ll always hear Kathy (below on the right) saying, as she drove the wagons,  “Lady, Tramp, step up.” Jeff’s daughter Jessica is on the left. Jessica leads trail rides.


Jeff’s family owns and runs the business and the ranch, and his son Michael, with me below, is an important member of the crew.


Most of the other wranglers are college students who work the ten adventures run each summer.  Foreman Nathan and Camille got married last spring in a Western-themed wedding…Chuck cooks Celeste and Carrie kept us fed. Each adventure starts on a Monday and ends on Thursday, each new trip reversing the course. The crew members take turns two-by-two remaining with the horses for the weekend until the next adventure starts.

This week, sadly, is the last week for 2010. These young people are amazing, multi-talented, multi-taskers who knew each and everybody’s name within ten minutes.  The crew members typically work two or three summers before leaving for internships, graduation, or marriage.  Jeff himself was a a crew wrangler himself as a youngster, met wife Cindy here, and was able to purchase the ranch and the wagon train adventure business a few years later.                                                               


I think everybody’s favorite “crew member” was Buddy, probably the cutest dog ever. He accompanied every trail ride after following the draft horses from camp to camp…he romped in every stream and lake, caught mice, and totally stole everybody’s heart. BTW, he’s probably the first dog ever not to snarf down bacon. He loves the wagon adventures sooooo much that, Jeff says, Buddy’s pretty disgusted to become a backyard dog after the summertime.


Our tents were comfy—all sleeping essentials are provided–, and there was nothing so fine as a cup of Arbuckle’s to warm us up on a chilly evening.  After supper—cowboy potatoes, Indian frybread, and raspberry butter are among our favorites—we gathered around the campfire for Jeff’s tall tales, historical accounts of the Old West, guitar strumming, cowboy poetry and songs, S’mores,  and terrific skits the natures of which I can’t reveal. I don’t wanna spoil the surprise for those of you who might find yourself traveling along with Jeff and the crew in future.  Suffice it to say legends, history, drama, mountain men, melodrama and gunfire played enormous parts in the entertainment. Delish Dutch oven desserts such as peach cobbler and cherry chocolate cake were dished up each night and served to the ladies first.

One of the nicest parts of the meals was Jeff leading us in a blessing first. Nobody had to join in…but seems like everybody did.

Paper is burned in the campfire and only one Styrofoam cup is allotted per day, as everything brought in  the wilderness must be taken out.  We wrote our names on the cups and hung them between meals on a cup line.


                                                                                            I totally loved this paper napkin holder.


Everywhere surrounding us, the Wyoming landscape was full of lakes, greenery and blooming wildflowers.  Nights after the camp quieted down were almost beyond description: the stars are endless, multi-layered, sparkling on forever and ever amen. What a sight.                                                   

But the most fun of all was riding horses!  Folks either rode, hiked, or wagonned it to the next camp each day.   My favorite mount was Copper.


In camp, I threw hatchets, never once hitting my target, and roped Corndog., the pretend cow.  Now, even though the proof is on a video camera, I can’t show you today as we haven’t mastered lifting a “still” off of the video. Jeff taught me all about the “honda” and the “spoke” of a lariat, and I nailed Corndog on my third try. Honest.                              


(My kids were not as impressed when they realized I was afoot and not riding a bucking bronco while roping Corndog, but myself, I am mighty awed.)

Our last day, the Pony Express rode through camp and brought us all mail. 


Me and mine, well, we had the time of our life.  


As Jeff said when we left, “There’s always be a campfire burnin’ for ya here in Wyomin.”



Yep. I’m feeling the warmth right now.



A New Country, A New Breed: The Morgan

MarryingMinda Crop to UseWhen my editor e-mailed me last weekend that “you need a breed” for the stolen horses in my novella for next year’s Lawmen and Outlaws Christmas anthology, I realized anew that a horsewoman I am not.Morgan horse frolic

So I searched and snooped and came up with Morgans as well as lots of cool pictures. This historic American breed started up about the same time as the United States itself, when legendary stallion Figure was born in 1789 in southern New England. He is the origin of our country’s first breed of “light horse”.justin_morgan_sign

Although Figure was not as big as colonial workhorses nor as tall and long-legged as race horses, he consistently outperformed both. He became widely known for his ability to pull stumps and logs for settlers, and was also used as a saddle and driving horse. As his reputation swelled,  he had fun, too, winning races and pulling contests, and was a favorite mount at militia parades. He even carried President James Monroe on a muster-day parade.

All Morgans today trace back to Figure, the “foundation sire.” Since Figure was at one time owned by a man named Justin Morgan, the horse later came to be identified by that name. Subsequently, the entire breed as well. “Justin Morgan” became famed for his prepotency –the passing on all of his distinctive looks, conformation, temperament and athleticism no matter if the mare breeding with him was a large draft horse or an elegant racing type.


The “prince of steeds” died at the age of 32 from a kick in his flank by another horse. His offspring and descendents didn’t disappoint. Blessed with ground-covering gaits, Morgans covered many miles day after day at a steady rate of speed. They were dependable and determined to get the job done, making them a favorite horse in all lines of work. Earning a reputation as “horses of all work,” they were the preferred teams for stagecoach lines, for fieldwork on farms, and for transportation to town by the 1820’s. In the 1840’s, the breed’s trotting ability made it a favorite for harness racing, and its strength found Morgans headed for the California goldfields. Morgan horse 1888

Justin Morgan’s grandson, Black Hawk, and great grandson, Hale’s Green Mountain Morgan, dominated the sires by mid-century. Black Hawk, beloved for his speed and elegant style, sired a world champion trotter, and in the 1850’s, these two stallions charmed visitors to Midwestern state fairs and heightened the demand for Morgans in the west. They were taken to California as ranch horses and harness racers, and helped run the Pony Express.

Several units of cavalry in the Civil War were comprised of Morgans, including the Vermont Cavalry. U.S. General Philip Sheridan’s charger Winchester (a.k.a. Rienzi), a noble horse immortalized after the war, was a descendant of Black Hawk. General Sheridan's ride







The only survivor of Custer’s regiment at the Battle of Little Bighorn was his Morgan-mustang, Comanche.

Comanche, sole survivor

 Bred to be taller today, the Morgan’s deep body, lovely head, and straight-clean boned legs make still make it a hit from cowhands in Montana to show-rings and dressage. The Morgan is at home mounted by tourists on America’s trails and by-ways as well as mounted by police in the city. Its gentleness and soundness makes this horse beloved as a therapeutic riding horse for those with various disabilities. When you’re in Shelburne Vermont, you can visit the Morgan Museum.Morgan horse Museum Shelburne VT

How about you? Authors, what horses “ride” through your plots? Ever ridden a Morgan? Share your horse-tales today!

Morgan horse 1

Victoria Bylin: My New Neighbors

Vicki Logo“This house backs to a farm for retired thoroughbreds,” said our realtor.

My eyes popped wide. “Really?”

“Absolutely.” beloved-horses

Sure enough, if you walk up the incline and shove through some bushes, you can see horses in the distance.  I don’t want anyone to get confused.  This is a small tract house in a Lexington, Kentucky suburb. Our new yard is big enough for our dog and a barbecue, but it’s not nearly big enough for a horse.

Nonetheless, I can see horses in the distance. I don’t know which part of me was more excited: the little girl who grew up reading all the Black Stallion books by Walter Farley, or the western writer who instantly had visions of putting a horse race in her next book. Then again, it might have been the weary traveler–the woman who just moved her whole house into a Pod–who nearly melted with relief at the thought of having a real roof again.

house-outsideEither way, the writer in me got to thinking about horse races. It doesn’t take much for the set-up.  As long as there have been men and horses, racing has been part of our history. Records show both chariot races and mounted races in the Greek Olympics in 638 BC. Ancient Rome had its share of horseracing as well. The sport as we know it now got a boost in the 12th century when knights returned from the Crusades with Arabian stallions and bred them with English mares. Two-horse races–with bets riding on the winner–no doubt provided chills and thrills. house-with-me

That’s the kind of race I’ll use in that future book. Just two men (or maybe a woman) and two horses pitted against each other, maybe at a county fair or a Fourth of July celebration.


Those two-horse races eventually evolved into the “Sport of Kings” and horseracing as we know it today. It came to America with British settlers and first took root on Long Island around 1665. Not until the Civil War, though, did it become an organized sport. With that growth came gambling, and with gambling came a criminal element. 

horses-in-mistThe writer in me is seeing a plot-twist in the making. When I write the book with the horse race, there’s going to be more at stake than just the winner’s purse. Anyone else envisioning Snidley Whiplash in a shadowy corner? When the time comes, I’m going to have fun with this story!